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JOHN RINARD: THOUGHTS FROM A MASTER BUILDER

John L. Rinard

Director, Parsons

Q: You have been the project manager for projects around the world. What is the biggest challenge you've faced that seems common to all projects?

That’s a great question. From the Sands of Libya, to Earthquakes in CA to the Heat of Saudi Arabia to Hurricanes in Florida, what you can always predict… is the unpredictable.

There are always a myriad of project challenges. Nothing is ever standard, you have to be prepared for and flexible enough for anything at all times.

Certainly, one of the biggest hurdles is always the comprehension between the Owner and the Contractor. What does the owner want? What does the Contractor thinks the owner wants?

Over the course of my career I have noticed that the focus to control the risks has resulted in larger and larger projects. Things used to be: one contract for Design and one Contract for Construction. This focus has morphed into DB Contracts -The bigger the Project, the bigger the challenges.

Q: If you had to list one leadership lesson, what would it be? Can you give us an example?

Lead by example and treat people with care and respect.

For the past 25 years I have been either a manager or director. Through all those year, leading by example and valuing my team have been top of a long list of “To Dos”.

People skills are important. The Riyadh Metro PMCM boasts a group of people from over 35 countries – you need to bring people together and get them all pulling in the same direction quickly. Whether demonstrating my adherence to safety by wearing full ‘PPE’ or being at the project’s largest concrete pour at 2:00 am, I make it a priority to do whatever it takes to support any team to complete a task and to show the support and commitment I want to see in my team. I show that I am willing, and probably have done, every task they are asked to do.

I got thrown into the leadership test deep-end very early in my career. In my first management position, as a 27-year-old Engineer. On Southern Pacific Railroad’s Great Salt Lake Causeway Project, I was faced with supervising a 62-year-old surveyor who believed he should have gotten my job.
Since I was “the new guy” and the new boss, everyone was watching to see what I would do. Could I be bullied? Would I be a bully? It was a test for me in a lot of ways – but I think most of all it was a test of how I was going to treat the man who was actively defying my leadership.
His frustration and anger were understandable, but I had a job to do. Two weeks in we had a “confrontation” in the parking lot (not ideal). I knew I did not need to add to the humiliation he was probably already feeling. I was firm, but respectful. I made it clear that he could work “with me” or go. He chose to stay, and we became very good friends.
At the end of the day, that is what it is all about, not people working “for you”, but people working “with you”.

Q: You've been working on the $22.5 billion Riyadh project for how long, four years? How do you keep the fire burning? To an outsider it seems like you must have extraordinary insight, imagination and an ability to see 5 moves ahead - are you like the Bobby Fisher of infrastructure?  

I am very fortunate to have gained a depth of knowledge thanks to opportunities and experiences as a Contractor, Owner, Operator and Builder. While mega projects like this require the management team to work as a committee and remain forward focused, we are not always five moves ahead. You really don’t know what the next issue will be, but somehow you have to be prepared for whatever it is, be it political, personnel related or technical. No day is ever the same. I’m only joking a little when I say (regularly) that I wait for the “fire drill”. I enjoy the chance to solve any issue. The unknown around the next corner, that is what keeps the “fire burning” for me.
There are three things that really makes it all worthwhile and keeps me going on any job: the ability to recognize and give credit to staff for a job well done; the enlightenment when working with owners or builders that comes with being able to see the “other side’s” position; and the challenge of the impossible, the real opportunity to make it possible and the pure joy when that happens.

Q: What is the most interesting challenge you faced in your long, and storied, career?

Tough question. I have benefitted from the opportunity to work with many great people with wonderful minds to resolve some very big challenges.
While many more come to mind, the “most interesting” might be from the aftermath of the Northridge Earthquake in Southern California in 1994, which caused the collapse of sections of Southern California’s freeway network. The result of this widespread destruction left people literally driving 4+ hours to get to work every day.
The following day I found myself in a Navy Helicopter with the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and the Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration flying over the destruction looking at a little used freight line to Northern L.A. County. The Secretary asked me if I could get Metrolink train service running along that40-mile line through the Antelope Valley “all the way to Lancaster”. I replied, “I think we can”.
In the ensuing week, the team (with the help of Navy Seabees) constructed temporary stations, established parking facilities and borrowed and pulled trains out of mothballs. Within five business days rail service carrying crush loads (people were standing in the bathrooms) reduced the 4+ hour drive to about 50 minutes.
We could deliver, the challenge was met and conquered. On the theme of “making the impossible possible”, the LA Times dubbed this remarkable example of teamwork “The 5 Day Miracle”.
The rail service that we established then and is still running today.

Q: What is next for you, when you look around the world at all the incredible challenges?

My plans are still maturing but I am always looking for a challenging opportunity and truly enjoy using my expertise and critical thinking skills to bring solutions that result in high production outcomes. In addition to my hands-on construction experience, I am also a listed Mediator and Arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association. I like solutions.

From designing and constructing a one-mile bridge in El Monte CA in 8 months; to restoring service to a hurricane destroyed rail line supporting a major mine on Jamaica within days; to solving the puzzle of why, during testing, High Speed trains in South Korea kept trying to ‘jump the tracks’ at 320 kph; to settling billion dollar claims while keeping construction progressing; to opening the LA Metrolink initial service in 18 months when everyone thought it could not be done, I’ve enjoyed a career of triumphing over the “unachievable”.

Wherever I land next, I look forward to continuing to take great satisfaction in accomplishing things that people say can’t be done. Whether it be another large construction challenge or, bringing parties together to amicably settle project dispute resolutions, anything is possible.

John Rinard is an executive manager and construction expert with over 36 years of seasoned heavy civil construction. His experience as owner (public and private), operator, engineer and contractor bring a balanced perspective to successful delivery of the largest infrastructure projects. John has managed or constructed infrastructure with a value more than USD $220 billion. He began his career with the Southern Pacific Railroad in the USA, has served on five continents and has managed or developed projects in India, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Guinea, Qatar, Libya, Philippines, South Korea, United States, Saudi Arabia, and Australia. In the USA he has managed projects from Chicago to San Francisco, and from Miami to Seattle. 

About the Riyadh Metro: The Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Metro project, commissioned by the Riyadh Development Authority (RDA), is one of the largest Metros being built in the world today. The world-class plan includes construction of a 6-line Metro traversing the length and breadth of the capital city. The system is a pivotal piece of the plan to manage city growth that is expected to add 2.9 million people by the year 2030 to a new high of 8.3 million. This $24 billon (USD) metro network will be the backbone of the public transport system.